Information Alone is Not Enough to Improve Health

April 15, 2015 BY: LISA

People don’t change because you tell them what to do…

Fifteen years ago as a new graduate dietitian I came out into the workforce ready to help people get healthier. We had a few sessions on counselling clients at uni and a lot of focus on what to tell people. So I set out to tell people what to do in order to get healthier.

What I quickly learned was that people like to hear information; they expect to hear information so when they leave your appointment with information they are satisfied. However when the return to see you at their next appointment, a lot of people haven’t been able to implement the changes you had discussed in the initial session and are looking for the next piece of information.

In 2003 the World Health Organisation determined that education alone was not adequate to change health behaviours. Professor Susan Jebb from Oxford University says “the inclination to overemphasise the importance of knowledge, whilst ignoring the influence of environmental factors on human behaviours, is termed the ‘fundamental attribution error.'”

(ttp:// )



In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error is people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors.


The opposite of this is the actor–observer bias, in which people tend to overemphasize the role of a situation in their behaviors and underemphasize the role of their own personalities. ( )



How these entities fit into a health consultation?


Fundamental attribution error– looking only at the person’s inability to implement a plan and ignoring the type of plan they were trying to put in place or what else was happening in their environment at the time.


Actor-observer bias– Looking only at the plan and not at the person’s contribution to making it work or not work.


When considering behavior change and helping clients make healthy choices the answer lies a little in each camp. For the clinician allowing the idea of the fundamental attribution error into an appointment is a good idea. That is, talking to your client about how the way they do and think impacts on their ability to undertake the goals you have negotiated.


From a population and policy stand point it is more valuable to consider how the external environment can assist people to make better decisions and take action on their health – the article above summarises these types of interventions very well.


Hence the solution to our obesity epidemic starts to look multi-faceted as it should.


Information Overload


The current health consumer is in a frenzy because of all the information they have at hand.  Given most people think that all they need to create better health is information the plethora of information available gives the mirage that they have everything they need.


Simon / Pixabay


However, the massive amount of” health” information is clearly not helping our obesity epidemic. If that is not enough then they can purchase the pill or exercise equipment to make it all happen a lot easier and faster. The upshot of all this information is that people just move from one piece of advice to the next without ever looking inwards. So the end result is a whole lot of conflicting information that no one has managed to implement any changes or make lasting improvements in their health from.


The trouble is the consumer is so used to collecting information they don’t think they need the expert to help as they can just source some more information from the web. Collecting information without ever doing the work needed to improve their health = current state of health in Australia.


cocoparisienne / Pixabay


Perhaps the selling point for clinicians needs to be not only do you have great information but you can help people implement it as well.


 “It’s the balance between information and implementation that you need to get right for your clients.”


The overall aim…

Consumers need allied health expertise to assist them to navigate all the misinformation and guarantees they find on the internet- so the provision of evidence based information will always be necessary for clinicians.


However, the appointment content needs to be double edged:

  • Navigating the minefield of misinformation and the provision of evidence based information
  • Guiding clients to look at their own role in their current dilemma- not just looking at themselves and their past failures but help them understand the untapped potential they hold in their own heads.


If you would like assistance to develop skills and confidence in this area please contact me via email . For details on upcoming Melbourne workshop go to



All enquiries, Lisa 0413 956 107 Appointments 1300 725 806
Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software